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Changing the Game: A History of the NHL Expansion

by Stephen Laroche

Long before the Florida Panthers and the Anaheim Ducks, there were the Montreal Maroons and the Detroit Cougars. The original expansion era of the National Hockey League began in the 1920s, when today’s bedrock teams – like the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, and New York Rangers – were added.

Author Stephen Laroche provides a three-page summary of each new team’s creation and record since expansion, followed by a few photos of key players and capsule reviews of how they fared in the team’s inaugural season. Original interviews with former players are spliced into the summaries. It’s an effective, if uncomprehensive, way to chart the ebbs and flows of different teams, from the Cleveland Barons to the Kansas City Scouts.

One of the fascinating things Laroche looks at is the way expansion determined how hockey legends forever associated with other teams ended their stellar careers. Hall of Fame defenceman Doug Harvey will always be remembered as a Montreal Canadien, but he finished as a St. Louis Blue; Dave Keon was a legend with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but ended his pro years as a Hartford Whaler; Terry Sawchuk was a Stanley Cup winner in Detroit and Toronto, but was also the first goalie in Los Angeles Kings history – in 1967 to ’68, the year the NHL doubled in size to 12 teams from the so-called Original Six era (1942 to ’67).

The history of NHL expansion is also the history of a monopolistic organization that doesn’t allow competition so as to control the price of its product and the salaries of its labour force. This is what led to the formation of the players’ union, as well as the renegade World Hockey Association (1972 to ’79). While the 1970s California Golden Seals and their white skates may have failed, the NHL now has three thriving California-based teams, including the 2014 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

And expansion doesn’t just refer to the number of teams in the league – now up to 30 from 12 in 1967 – it also applies to the wallets of NHL owners. The expansion fee in 1967 was $2 million. The most recent arrivals to the NHL – the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild – coughed up $80 million apiece to join the league in 2000. In laying all this out, Laroche gives readers a highly abridged history of NHL expansion over the last 100 years. If you’re a hockey nerd, get set to rejoice.